Defense attorneys in Baltimore, US, are planning to reexamine 2,000 police arrests made with the assistance of Stingray – the cellphone surveillance equipment that identifies and logs mobile device owners within range.
A group of lawyers including the city's public defender want to get a closer look at whether they can challenge some of the arrests made in part on evidence gathered by the secretive phone-tracking tool.
The legal eagles believe the cops' use of the technology was excessive and unconstitutional in some or all cases – and wants any convictions thrown out if necessary.
"This is a crisis, and to me it needs to be addressed very quickly," Baltimore public defender Natalie Finegar told USA Today, though Finegar conceded to the Baltimore Sun that "it's going to be a labor-intensive process."
Developed by the FBI and later provided to police, Stingray allows an investigator to establish fake mobile phone towers that collects information from nearby devices – such as the IMEI numbers that uniquely identify each gadget and their location. The phones think they're connected to a normal mast, but instead, they are being tracked by the Stingray equipment.
Privacy advocates have challenged the legality of Stingray surveillance and, in some cases, prosecutors have had to drop criminal charges rather than violate the highly restrictive non-disclosure agreements the FBI requires.
USA Today notes that Baltimore police have been particularly aggressive in their use of Stingray, employing the surveillance tools to investigate even minor crimes within the city.
By reexamining some of those cases, defense attorneys believe they could challenge and possibly get dismissal for some of the Stingray-related arrests. ®